Mar 312020
 
Nate Ebner, New England Patriots (February 3, 2019)

Nate Ebner – © USA TODAY Sports

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CONFERENCE CALL WITH SPECIAL TEAMER NATE EBNER…
The following is the transcript from today’s media conference call with safety/special teams player Nate Ebner, who the New York Giants signed on March 19th:

Q: What made Joe Judge a good special teams coach and what about your experience with him makes you think he will be a good head coach?
A: Joe works extremely hard, I’m probably going to say that a couple more times. He is an extremely hard worker, he pays attention to the details. He really pays attention to the details. He comes to work with a lot of energy and he did that consistently over the eight years that I’ve known him. I think that is a genuine part of him. I think he is going to bring that same energy and hopefully that same attention to detail and work ethic. At the end of the day, he cares a lot about his guys, I can’t say that about a lot of coaches. I think that’s special and I think that’s hopefully going to want to make a lot of players play for him.

Q: Do you think if Joe Judge is not the coach of the Giants that you are still with the Giants? How much of a pull did he have to get you there?
A: I’m not going to play out a bunch of different scenarios. I’m not going to act like he didn’t have a part in coming here. I obviously have built a good relationship with him and a rapport with him. Obviously (him) being a special teams coach, me being a special teams player over nearly a decade on the same team. We do have a relationship that definitely played a part in me being a Giant. Outside of that, it is a great organization that I am extremely excited to get to. It’s a great team, within a great city, with a great fan base that I’m juiced about. Obviously like everyone else, you wish you weren’t quarantined. I am extremely excited to get there and be a part of the organization first and foremost.

Q: Talk about your background as a rugby player. I know you were an Olympian in 2016 and how does that transfer over to football, particularly special teams? Also, what have you been doing to stay in shape during these challenging times?
A: That first question is a big question. I could talk about that for a while. The second question, though, I have been working out. I have a private place I can go to and I can get my workouts in that coach has sent us, do my running and all that stuff. I’m good on that stuff, I’m back in Ohio, that’s kind of my home base. I went to Ohio State and I was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio. Rugby played a big part in me being able to transition to football. There are some similarities, the tackling, that aspect of both sports. You do a lot of tackling but even the tackling can be very different when you look at the details of it. They are both very different sports. I think the mental side of football versus the flow and feel of rugby. Rugby can be very like basketball, you have to feel out the situation. Is it a fast break or is it a half court set piece, that’s kind of how rugby is. Football is very studied and you need to recognize something that has come up before or a formation or this or that and remember checks. It’s a very different head game. They’re obviously two very physical sports, but at the end of the day they are very different as well. Like I said, I could go on and on about that for a while.

Q:  Along with the rugby question, you are a part owner of the New England Free Jacks. With that season being cancelled, what has it been like being in the owner seat as well? Not just a player who is being robbed of workouts.
A: Obviously it’s unfortunate for the guys and the fans. Especially this being the first year for the Free Jacks. I feel bad for the fan base and the people that have been waiting to see them go out there and play. I feel bad for everyone in the country. Everyone has a situation that they are having to deal with. It’s been cool, I wish I could tell you more about it. It was a good opportunity for me to help with exposure to the game, but also go full circle in my life. I think not having a professional future in the United States to play rugby was a major reason I’m playing football. I was just fortunate enough to still make it in the NFL and still be here. That, to me, was a major part of my decision when I decided to walk on at Ohio State. Knowing that a younger Nate that might have the aspirations of being a professional rugby player, that they have the ability to play professionally here in the United States and not have to go to a different continent, that’s pretty awesome. It’s pretty awesome that I have seen it in the last 10 to 15 years. To be an owner, like I said, it’s awesome that it’s come full circle. I haven’t gotten to do too much because obviously I am still playing football. That’s my number one priority without question. There will come a day when football is done, and I can dive into that a little bit more and give you a better answer as to what being an owner is like. From a personal note, it’s pretty cool.

Q: You have spent your whole career in New England. What’s it like to leave there and was there an option to go back? How did that play out?
A: Obviously there was a lot of different scenarios that could have played out. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of that. Looking forward, I am a part of a great organization and I’m excited. There comes a time in everyone’s career where they are free agents and like you said, I have spent my entire career in New England. Every year you have to assess what’s the best thing for you and this is the best for me. It hasn’t happened in my career up until this point, but it’s something I have always assessed and at this point this is what’s best for me and what I need to do. Unfortunately, it is a business and there are things that happen that you don’t necessarily like but you have to deal with them. That goes on both sides of it and ultimately you have to do what’s best for you. I’m looking forward to coming to a great organization. Like I said earlier, a great organization with a great team and great fan base. I’m super excited about it.

Q: You mentioned the ability to be able to stay in shape doing workouts. You were on the 2016 Olympic team for rugby. I just want to get your thoughts on the Olympics being postponed and the challenges that go into training. For the Olympics, you are talking about a high level of training just as you would for football.
A: I hope things settle down and everything goes back to normal. I definitely hope the Olympics are held in 2021 like they are saying. My heart would be absolutely broken for those who have fought so hard to get to this point and then have it ripped away. I can personally speak about across the board all the athletes. The rugby players that I had personal experiences with, trying to make the 2016 team. They were young and coming for this opportunity, to have it taken away. I have seen personally the work they put in and the years before that, trying to get in in 2016. To have it potentially be cancelled and then the next opportunity be in 2024, my heart would just break for those guys and girls. I hope that doesn’t happen. Right now, they just need to figure out things on a weekly basis, on a daily basis like the rest of the world is, like the rest of the country is. Until that time, the Olympics have been postponed for a year so they can settle things down. They were finishing up what’s called the world series. They would have finished that, taken a break and then gone into Olympic training camp. With that being on pause, they need to just make the most of what the situation is and that’s rest. Take the opportunity to rest and get their bodies right and hopefully get everybody healthy. It’s tough but hopefully everything works out in a year from now.

Q: Most of the time when head coaches come in, new coaches, they try to bring a player or two from where they were to help spread their message, help spread their culture. Do you think you can be that player for Joe Judge, and what would his message and his culture be, do you think, with this new team?
A: I’m going to let Joe speak for himself on what his message and culture and all that stuff that he wants to do. I can tell you this, whatever that will be, not only from Joe but the rest of that coaching staff, I’m going to do the best that I can to do it to the best of my ability. Like I said, the best that I can. Whatever capacity they need me in, whatever I’m asked to do, I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it the best I can. That, to me, is what I kind of watched in New England some great players do. That’s kind of a mindset that as a team, if we can all buy in together, then we’ll be in there playing for each other. That’s what great teams do, is play for each other. At the end of the day, I’m going to do what’s asked of me and I’m going to do it to the best of my ability.

Q: You talked a little about your own journey in free agency leaving a team you were with for a while. Were you surprised to see Tom Brady leave?
A: Everybody has to assess their personal situation. Everyone becomes a free agent if they’re lucky enough to play long enough to see that day. Tom has to do what’s best for him, just like I have to do what’s best for me. I see players every year go to new teams, and they have to do what’s best for them. The timing may be different in everyone’s career, but that assessment of what is best for you as a player and your family and personally. You do that assessment. Everyone does. Everyone has to assess that and make that decision. That’s what he chose to do. We see countless other players do the same thing every year.

Q: You talked a little bit about Joe Judge’s attention to detail and some of those qualities. But in this specific instance now where he’s a rookie head coach dealing with such an unorthodox offseason, he doesn’t have his players in the building, what do you think makes him uniquely capable of handling a situation like this? Whenever this season starts, whether it’s delayed or whatever happens, that he can succeed against these odds?
A: Well, everyone has to succeed against it. This is not just a New York Giants problem. This is an entire NFL problem and an entire country as a whole all fighting against it. I think every team is going to have to overcome it, just as we will. You can argue that a team that has a system of things that they’re used to doing is going to run into problems, just as much as us being new to it. We’ll do what we need to do to overcome as we can and as we go and what we’re allowed to do as the time comes. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. I know Joe is going to work as hard as he can and do everything in his power to the best of his ability to get us prepared as best as we can. Outside of that, we’ll do what we can that’s within our control.

Q: For years up in New England, you and Matthew Slater were like the Batman and Robin of the special teams up there, if you will. Now that you guys have separated, can you just reflect on the challenges ahead of building up that chemistry, that comradery, with a new set of teammates, and just what lessons you can take from having played with Matthew Slater for all those years and the rest of the special teams that you played with for a number of years, and just setting up a new core Giants special teams?
A: I have nothing but amazing things to say about Matthew Slater. He’s one of the highest-character people I’ve ever met in my life, and he’s a great, great football player to boot. I learned a lot from Matt coming in as a rookie. He was in his third or fourth year and already was a Pro Bowler. I just watched him work on a day to day basis, and kind of what I’ve spoken to throughout this phone call, just coming to work with a selfless attitude to do the work, to do it to the best of your ability, and whatever is asked of you, do it with a selflessness that puts the team’s priorities above your own. That’s what Matt did forever. He was extremely consistent, and that consistency, over time, really speaks to who you are as a person. Matt was among the most consistent people I’ve ever met. I could go on and on about the things that I’ve learned and how we’ve grown together. Matt as a person, I could literally go on and on about that. But ultimately, it’s about finding guys that want to put everything into their work every day, and when it comes to Sunday, they’re going to fight for each other. There’s a lot of selflessness, like I mentioned, and guys that are going to put it all on the line for one another. It sounds like there would be more to it. It sounds like some rah-rah stuff. But that’s the truth. Just a group of guys that really are tight-knit that want to fight for each other. That’s what it comes down to.

Q: Special teams, generally, are a young player’s sport, which is a stepping stone to becoming a starter. In your position, do you ever wonder, ‘Am I getting too old?’
A: No.

Q: What’s the attitude you have to bring to special teams, though?
A: To me, there are little intricacies within everything that I do, special teams or as a safety, that are very relatable, whether it be calling protections of the PP on punt protection, or just as you make checks on defense or offense or whatnot. No one really looks at those intricacies as much as they do offense or defense, but they’re out there and they’re happening every game. In the kicking game just as well. Those finer points can be the difference-maker, especially in a phase of the game that’s a one-play series. You don’t get four downs. You don’t have a bunch of opportunities. You get one chance. Sometimes, those opportunities can be game-changing opportunities. Every game, you’re going to get a handful of opportunities to change the game. Kicking and special teams plays truly do change the game. Touchdowns, blocked kicks, especially turnovers, momentum swings, they’re big parts of the game. Those details matter, and I think having played as long as I have, I hopefully can kind of build on what I’ve experienced. That’s why I love the kicking game. It’s a one-play series that’s balls to the wall for the entire time. It’s not like you get an incomplete pass and you’re back in the deep part of the field, and not covering grass and it’s a run play or something like that. Every single play in the kicking game is absolutely full speed and a dog fight. Every single one of them. It’s fun.

Q: Are you going to bring a haka for the special teams crew?
A: I don’t think so. I’m not Polynesian. I don’t think so. But that would be funny.

Mar 312020
 
Jeff Okudah, Ohio State Buckeyes (October 26, 2019)

Jeff Okudah – © USA TODAY Sports

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New York Giants 2020 NFL Draft Preview: Cornerbacks

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number mean, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-25 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The Giants released their CB1 during the 2019 season, Janoris Jenkins. He was the one stabilizer in the group, the one corner who could be relied onto cover and make plays. 2019 was a growing season for the three young corners who this team is really banking onto evolve into quality players. After trading up for Deandre Baker in the first round of the 2019 Draft, he was thrown into the fire rather early and he came out burned badly. There was no denying how poor he played and when given the opportunity, fellow rookie Corey Ballentine and Sam Beal, who was on the game-day roster for the first time since being a supplemental pick in 2018, didn’t instill any confidence either. The one positive sign was Baker improving as the second half of the year progressed and he actually put together a few solid performances late in the year.

The signing of James Bradberry takes down the need at the position a bit but there are significant questions behind him, zero assurances. Grant Haley remains the primary nickel even though his play took a turn in the wrong direction in his second year. Between Haley, Baker, Beal, and Ballentine the odds are one of them will turn out to be starter-caliber, one will turn out to be rotational-caliber, and two will be gone within a year or two. That said, there is a spot for a new guy in the group.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

  1. Jeff Okudah / Ohio State / 6’1 – 205

Grade: 87

Summary: Junior entry. Two year starter from Grand Prairie, Texas. The former five star and number one cornerback recruit did not disappoint once he got onto the field late in 2017. The most recent “DB U” has produced handfuls of NFL talent in recent years and the Ohio State coaches have labeled him the best of the bunch in those recent years. Okudah is an elite physical talent who plays with an elite mindset and aggressiveness. The tools are there, the mental capacity is there, and the short memory is there. Okudah is the kind of corner you want out there on an island against the opposition’s number one receiver. He owns that island and charges rent for anyone who wants to live there. Okudah is a week 1 starter in the league with an upside of being one of the best in the game at a position that is incredibly hard to fill.

*Okudah is the top corner I have scouted in quite some time. Physically and mentally, you are going to have a hard time telling anyone with a credible opinion that this kid isn’t going to be a Pro Bowler early in his career. The one thing that keeps him out of the rare 90+ tier on my grading sheet is the lack of discipline when it comes to technique as a press corner. If that issue gets cleaned up and a defense protects him early in his career, watch out. Is he in play for NYG at #4? I think he will be but the signing of Bradberry in combination with this front office trading up into round 1 last year for a corner makes me think they won’t consider him there.

  1. CJ Henderson / Florida / 6’1 – 204

Grade: 85

Summary: Junior entry from Miami, Florida. A three-year starter who earned All SEC honors all three seasons, including a first team honor in 2019. Henderson brings elite triangle numbers to the table, perhaps best in the class. He has the best combination of height, weight, speed, and leaping ability. However his greatest trait trumps all of those numbers, and it is the ability to stick to a receiver’s hip pocket with a rare combination of quickness, agility, and body control. Henderson makes his elite burst and acceleration look smooth and easy. He has the kind of speed that can stick to the NFL’s fastest deep threats but also the quickness to stick to the NFL’s shiftiest slot receivers. His poor tackling and tendency to avoid contact will hurt his team at times, but for what a corner is first asked to do, cover the receiver, it is hard to find someone better than Henderson.

*I’ll say this, if Henderson was more physical against the run, he would be higher than Okudah. As a scouting mentor (and former NFL coach) once told me, “You pay the other 10 guys to tackle”. If a team doesn’t care about a corner’s ability to tackle, Henderson could easily make a case to be higher than Okudah on the board. He is so smooth and easy, it almost looks like he isn’t even trying. He has some things to clean up as well but talent wise, this kid has it all.

  1. Kristian Fulton / LSU / 6’0 – 197

Grade: 80

Summary: Senior entry from New Orleans, Louisiana. Two-year starter who finished his career with a 2nd Team All SEC honor. Fulton was nearly suspended for two years in 2016 for messing with a performance enhancing drug test. After a couple of appeals, he was only suspended for the 2017 season. He then put together two solid years and stayed clean off the field but had to cope with a nagging ankle/foot injury both seasons. Fulton has tools and the ball production that will cause for the hope of upside, but there are significant movement issues both in short and long areas. He may need to be in a zone-based scheme to hide those issues. He shouldn’t be trusted on an island.

*Last year when Greedy Williams was getting a lot of national hype, I was telling everyone who would listen Fulton was the top guy. Williams went in the middle of the 2nd round in a weaker CB group, I think Fulton has a shot at going round 1. It has been a rocky career for him though with off field issues and a nagging lower body injury that hampered him a lot in 2019. There is some unknown here but when I have seen him at his best, he is first round caliber.

  1. Trevon Diggs / Alabama / 6’1 – 205

Grade: 79

Summary: Senior entry from Gaithersburg, Maryland. Two year starter who peaked as a senior, earning All American and first team All SEC honors. The brother of MIN receiver Stefon Diggs.. The former number one wide receiver recruit out of Maryland, Trevon appeared on track to follow in the footsteps of his brother. He played a hybrid offense/defense/special teams role in 2016 before making the full time move to corner in 2017. Diggs still has a raw-style to his game but one could make the argument he is the top physical press corner in the class. He obliterates receivers at the line and has the kind of size, speed, and ball skills that have become largely in demand in the league. Diggs still has a lot to clean up though and his most ideal role may be in a Cover 2 scheme. He has a hard time reacting in small spaces and needs to clean up a lot of technique bases areas across the board. If he progresses in those areas, he ca be a force.

*For what it’s worth, I know of at least one team that is grading him at safety. So to continue the NYG-safety talk, I think this is another name who can be considered. Top of round 2? I don’t think so. But if they end up with a late 2 or early 3 via trades, it is a possibility. Diggs is long, fast, strong. Teams love that at corner so I think he gets a shot there first.

  1. Noah Igbinoghene / Auburn / 5’10 – 198

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Trussville, Alabama. Two year starter who began his career as a wide receiver for the Tigers. Igbinoghene is the son of two Olympic-level track stars and he had quite the track career himself that carried on at Auburn. The star-athlete made the move to cornerback in 2018 and was abruptly inserted into the starting lineup. His two years at the position in the SEC saw a lot of flags, as his hand work and overall feel for the position just wasn’t quite there. With that said, the improvements he made over that span in combination with his elite speed and burst gives the notion that he may have some of the most attainable upside at the position in the class. Igbinoghene can play both outside and the nickel, but his tools as a press corner combined with the elite speed would best be served in a man-scheme outside. High risk, high reward prospect.

*This is a kid I am taking a chance on. There are a few corners behind him on this list who most have Igbinoghene behind. I saw the light switch on for him later in the year and that is what I want to see. If he had another full season worth of tape that I saw down the stretch, we are talking about a potential first rounder. He is going to go day 2 and he will be a corner who someone can throw in the slot or on the outside pretty early. Can’t say that about a lot of rookie corners. He turns 21 after Thanksgiving 2020.

  1. Jaylon Johnson / Utah / 6’0 – 193

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Fresno, California. Two year starter and two time 1st Team All Pac 12 in addition to 2019 All American. Johnson passes a lot of the initial eye ball tests when looking for corners who have both size and speed who can play in multiple coverage schemes. He shows a good feel for reading the routes, giving him an advantage against the underneath passing game. The instinctive corner has 7 career interceptions and 28 passes defended. The production is there. He still has a lot of work to do, however, when it comes to technique and ball location. He is a big play waiting to happen if he is matched up against a quality outside receiver with size and ball skills. He is an upside-based pick who may not be ready right away.

*Johnson has good size and long speed. Johnson has good production to look back on. He is a smart kid and very coachable. Some have a late 1st / early 2nd grade on him. Why am I putting him in the round 3 discussion? I don’t see natural ball location and he has some ugly tape against his best competition. I think there is a good chance he develops into a quality starter who can make plays, but it is going to take time. I don’t want to see him on an island against pro receivers in year one, he won’t be ready.

  1. Troy Pride Jr. / Notre Dame / 6’0 – 193

Grade: 78

Summary: Senior entry from Greer, South Carolina. A two year full time starter who also started sporadically in his first two seasons. Pride was also a member of the Notre Dame track team where he set team bests in the 60 and 200 meters. At this point, Pride may still be a better athlete than he is a football player, as seen in his struggles to maintain awareness of the ball. However the improvements he has shown over the years and his flashes of top tier man-cover ability, there is a significant reason to believe his best is far ahead of him. Pride is a hard working, smart kid who simply lacks confidence in his ability at this point. If given time, he can be molded into a quality starting corner.

*There was a point early in the process where I was flirting with Pride as a late first round grade. Once I got my hands on more tape, however, I had to bump him down a couple tiers. I think there is a solid upside here, someone who could rotate in right away but won’t be ready for a starting role until 2021 at the earliest. He is a lesser prospect than Julian Love from 2019, but one with more physical upside.

  1. Jeff Gladney / TCU / 5’10 – 191

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from New Boston, Texas. Four year starter and three time All Big 12 honoree, including a 1st Team nomination in 2019. Gladney has the rare combination of plus-length and plus-twitch that translates into downfield speed. He can stick himself to receivers on all levels of the route tree and when the ball does come his way, he makes plays on it. He led the Big 12 in pass breakups over the past two seasons in addition to providing good run defense on the outside where he is willing and able to make a difference. Gladney has some minor technique issues to fix, namely his pre-snap set up, but he should be ready for NFL duty right away, possibly even a starting role.

*I like the way this kid competes. So much of playing cornerback is between the ears, revolving around confidence, swagger, and intelligence. Gladney takes all of those and it positively impacts how well he competes. I don’t want him in my starting lineup right away, but I do think he can be an important nickel/dime defender at some point. He has technique issues to clean up and the big 12 isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL defensive back talent, but I am confident he will at least be a solid backup and eventual starter.

  1. Michael Ojemudia / Iowa / 6’1 – 200

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior entry from Farmington Hills, Michigan. Two year starter who earned 3rd Team All Big 10 honors in 2019. Ojemudia was somewhat slow on the progression scale but he did get better every year of his career and flashed some of the traits that the new age of cornerbacks possess. He has above average size and long speed, making him a tough guy to get the ball around especially when noting his receiver-caliber ball skills. He has some glaring issues that may make him a man-only type corner, as he simply allows too much separation underneath and doesn’t play with instincts. He lacks a true feel for the game but there will be roster spot for him, likely in a defense that can keep him in man concepts.

*This kid will be a scheme-based pick who I could see being in the round 2 discussion or dropping to the back end of round 4. I am staying right in the middle. Iowa has been putting quality defensive back talent into the league for a few years and he’s flashed some upside to be considered the best one I have seen over the past 4-5 years from that program.

  1. Cameron Dantzler / Mississippi State / 6’2 ‘ 188

Grade: 77

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Hammond, Louisiana. Two year starter who earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2018. To get a full appreciation for Dantzler and his game, one must watch him over and over. His stats won’t jump off the screen but since the start of 2018, he was one of the toughest SEC corners to complete a pass on, most notably near the end zone. His height, length, and springy athletic ability make him a guy who nobody will have confidence throwing downfield or in contested situations. He has some footwork to clean up so he can be more effective against underneath throws, but the tools and attitude are there to make Dantzler a quality starting corner very early in his career.

*Dantzler was another one I flirted with in round 1 at the beginning of the process. The first tape I watched was the Alabama game, and he won. He beat those guys. But there were some speed concerns that popped up a few times and then we went out and ran a 4.64, not good. He also didn’t measure as long as I was told he would. That in combination with some red flags in further tape study, I put him in round 3. Still think he can be a starter down the road or quality backup.

  1. AJ Terrell / Clemson / 6’1 – 195

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Atlanta, Georgia. Two year starter who earned 3rd Team All ACC honors in 2018, 1st Team in 2019. The former 5-start recruit has a lot of experience, as he was a key cog to an-always talented secondary since the minute he arrived at Clemson. When it comes to the tools and what the league desires, Terrell is going to impress many. He plays tall and long and has proven he can run downfield against speed. Terrell also has produced in some of Clemson’s biggest games. There are issues between the ears, however. He fails to recognize route combinations, struggles to find the ball, and he doesn’t trust his techniques. He gets too grabby in traffic, showing a lack of trust in his techniques. He has the tools to be a quality starter but there is plenty of work to be done before he gets there.

*I am a tad lower on Terrell than most. There are some who put him the tier below the top 2, but I don’t see it. Terrell wasn’t overly productive, he is way too grabby, and there isn’t a natural sense to his game. The tools and program are going to get him drafted higher than where I have him.

  1. Bryce Hall / Virginia / 6’1 – 202

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A four year starter who hadn’t missed a game until his season ending ankle injury halfway through 2019. Hall was an All American and 1st Team All ACC corner in 2018 after leading the nation with 22 pass break ups. He has the desired height and length for the outside corner spot and his performance since the start of 2018 proved he is more than a set of tools. He really came together over his career and teams that primarily run zone coverage will have a high outlook on him. He does have a hole in his arsenal when it comes to long speed. He can be burned and there isn’t a catch-up gear. His surgery is in the rear view mirror and he should be ready by training camp if not sooner. He has many starter traits but he will be scheme specific.

*Depending on which coach you talk to and what scheme they run, Hall can be where I have him (early day 3) or somewhere in the middle of the 2nd round. He would be an ideal fit for a zone scheme where he has some protection over the top. He is tall and long, he plays with a physical brand, and he shows plus instincts. But man, that long speed is an issue and he a team can put him on an island with their speed guy, the defense is in trouble.

  1. Amik Robertson / Louisiana Tech / 5’8 – 187

Grade: 74

Summary: Junior entry from Thibodaux, Louisiana. A three year starter who was 1st Team All Conference USA two seasons in a row. Robertson made a name for himself via production and on-field swagger. He had 14 interceptions and 34 pass break ups over his 3 year career, albeit against a slightly lower level of competition. He plays with the kind of short memory you want all defensive backs to possess, never lacking confidence and playing with a borderline nasty attitude. His lack of size will likely keep him at nickel where his techniques and over-aggression could be a problem. He has a lot of discipline to pick up early in his career if he wants to stick around.

*Robertson is a hot name among some, I never put him took him out of the day three tier. I see a nickel-only who will be able to make plays, but he has the kind of game that hurts just as much as it helps a defense. Personally that isn’t my preference at cornerback but I can see why some don’t mind. There aren’t many corners at his size in the league, so it is another red flag but if he sticks at nickel, it is less of an issue.

  1. Lamar Jackson / Nebraska / 6’2 – 208

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Elk Grove, California. Three year starter who earned 2nd Team All Big 10 honors in 2019. Jackson, a former high school safety, made the move to cornerback when he arrived at Nebraska and carved his niche. His size and speed numbers are among the best in the class and after how he turned things around in 2019, it is safe to assume he is undervalued when it comes to his upside. Jackson was benched for immaturity reasons in 2018. Things turned around after the birth of his son and he put together the best year of his career as a senior. Jackson is nowhere near his peak and if he continues on the track he went on between 2018 and 2019, Jackson could be one of the top values in the entire class. Some schemes may even consider moving him back to safety.

*I have a character red flag on Jackson, nothing overly serious but it did bring him down slightly. Jackson plays faster than what he timed at the combine. I actually have it written in game notes from the fall that this kid will play as fast as he needs to and then he went onto the Senior Bowl, where they were able to gauge how fast everyone moved, and Jackson was among the fastest. He is one of my favorite day three targets and I would be equally eager to put him at safety and I am corner.

  1. Damon Arnette / Ohio State / 6’0 – 195

Grade: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Three year starter who has played outside and nickel on a loaded defense. Was named 2nd Team All Big 10 in 2019 after almost declaring for the draft after his 2018 Honorable Mention All Big 10 season. Arnette is going to impress with his triangle numbers during workout season. He has more than enough size and speed to play with and coaches will see the energy he brings to the table and try to channel it toward improving his techniques that occasionally arise and burn him. Arnette projects to backup duty, ideally on the outside, with the physical ability and upside to start down the road.

*Arnette is likely going day 2 from what I have been told, I’m not there on him. He never quite reached the upside many have been talking about for years and one has to wonder, if Ohio State couldn’t get him there, what makes you think the light will click in the NFL? OSU is arguably the top cornerback factory in the country. There is no denying the ability, but I didn’t see enough progression or consistency.

  1. Dane Jackson / Pittsburgh: 74
  2. Javaris Davis / Auburn: 74
  3. Trajan Bandy / Miami: 72
  4. Javelin Guidry / Utah: 71
  5. Essang Bassey / Wake Forest: 71
  6. Grayland Arnold / Baylor: 71
  7. Darnay Holmes / UCLA: 71
  8. Josiah Scott / Michigan State: 71
  9. Thakarius Keyes / Tulane: 70
  10. Lavert Hill / Michigan: 70

NYG APPROACH

I am all about NYG adding another CB talent to the pool. They are one injury and one lack of development away from this being a bottom tier group at a position that good offenses can expose with ease. Does Okudah make sense at #4? Sure, when looking at him and his grade by himself. But I don’t think NYG is going to use another prime resource on the position. Remember, this front office traded up into the first round for Baker and they just spent a ton of dough on Bradberry. Now, use the 4th pick of the draft on a good corner, but not a great one, over players with similar if not better grades who play a position where NYG needs help? I don’t see it.

I think there is a lot of early day 3 talent in this draft who can drop into round 5, possibly even round 6. I am looking at guys like Lamar Jackson, Dane Jackson, and Javaris Davis. These are guys who offer some versatility and, to be honest, more upside than what I see in Corey Ballentine and Sam Beal. So at the end of the day, I see the real opportunity for CB value to start day 3 for NYG in relation to the likely value available at other positions.

Mar 302020
 
Blake Martinez, Green Bay Packers (December 29, 2019)

Blake Martinez – © USA TODAY Sports

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CONFERENCE CALL WITH LINEBACKER BLAKE MARTINEZ…
The following is the transcript from today’s media conference call with linebacker Blake Martinez, who the New York Giants signed on March 16th to a 3-year, $30.75 million contract:

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your relationship with Patrick Graham? What can you tell us about what the defense will look like and what your role will be?
A: We had that year together and we became super close, he was my inside linebacker coach. For me, what made me so excited to work with him this year and the following years is how smart he is. I think he is probably the smartest coach I’ve ever been around. The preparation he puts in every week, his intensity, just how much he cares about the game of football. It just allowed me to go in every Sunday or Monday or Thursday games fully prepared. I never felt like I didn’t know what play was going to happen next. He put that much into it and that’s how it easy it was us to understand what he was communicating to us that made everything so much easier. Throughout the week he would basically emphasize on little things whether it was this team runs routes at 10 to 12 yards and break or this team runs at 14 yards. This team runs a lot of short routes, this team does a lot of crossing routes. This team runs outside zone, inside zone, toss, stretch whatever it ends up being. You knew that you can emphasize that throughout the week. We would do little drills whether it was in individual or on the side that would allow you to get those game-like reps and find advantages throughout the week that you could use on that given game. Once again, it made it that much easier to make plays and be successful in that given week.

Q: What’s going to be the biggest difference between Patrick Graham’s defense and what you just came away from in Mike Pettine’s defense?
A: I don’t know the exact answer to that just because we haven’t gotten to the X’s and O’s of Pat’s defense. Basically, when I was working with Pat I was working within Coach Pettine’s defense. Just from understanding Pat and what he is looking for and how he put forth certain things in Coach Pettine’s defense, I think it’s just the aggressive nature. Everyone working together, everyone on the same page, everyone communicating. Everyone is going to know exactly where to be and what to do on every given call. There’s not going to be much, if any, mental errors at all. I know he stressed that a bunch. I don’t know if it is going to be simple but it will be understood by all 11 that are out there. Overall, there is going to be a lot of freedom for me to make checks, make calls and adjustments on a given play pre-snap to give guys chances to make plays. There is going to be a lot of communication across the board. I think it is going to be an awesome defense and I’m just waiting to finally be able to get to learn and see what he has for us.

Q: Can you take us through the free agency process? I know this was the first time for you.
A: It was interesting. I think it was one of those things where you are waiting for Christmas to happen and it took forever it seemed like, to finally figure out where I was going to be, what team I  was going to be on and how it was going to be situated. When it first started on that Monday, I was kind of anxious waiting to hear from my agent what teams reached out officially. Going throughout the process it was a waiting game. I had a couple of other options too, but the Giants were the best option for me. Just the market, obviously Pat Graham and a great young team. It was a no brainer for me at a certain point throughout the free agency process that Monday. My agent laid my options on the table and I was like honestly let’s get this thing done with the Giants. That’s where I want to be, that’s where I think my best opportunity is to be successful and be successful as a team. So I went through that process and at night time it kind of got close to finalizing and then it was official once we figured out the small little logistic things.

Q: You mentioned you are joining a young team and a young defense. Did you view that as a positive? Last year, being so young, they didn’t perform up to the standards they had hoped right away. There is a lot of growing still to do.
A: That’s a positive to me. I think they have a group that is extremely talented smart guys, great players all across the board on offense and defense. It’s going to be cool to grow that group together. For me, going from last year or I guess two years ago when we were 6-9-1 to all of the sudden going 13-3. Seeing the little things you had to change and adapt to and incorporate within a given week, a given offseason, within a different training camp that just allowed the defense to mesh in a certain way that allowed us to be so successful last year. I think I can incorporate those things into this defense and this team and I think it will be an awesome thing that we are going to do throughout this next season.

Q: What was your reaction when you saw Kyler Fackrell was joining you in New York? What is he going to bring to the table for the Giants?
A: It was awesome. I texted him when I saw on Twitter. I reached out to him and we were both excited we are going to be teammates again. He’s an amazing player and I think there is a lot of things that he hasn’t been able to show because of certain kind of depth chart things, certain roles he was placed into. Obviously, he had a 10-sack season two years ago. This last year he was a role player that stepped in and did a lot of great things. I think he is one of the best zone coverage linebackers in the NFL in my opinion. What he has been able to do for us and what he’s been asked to do, he’s done a phenomenal job and I know he is going to be a great asset to this team and show people a lot of great things this year.

Q: Did you sign your contract in a weight room?
A: We started this project last year. We built a facility that has a living area, it has a weight room, turf field and it has a basketball court. Me and my dad made this project together. It was weirdly at a perfect time because we have to be quarantined. So I’m basically quarantined in a weight room. It’s been awesome for me. The picture was taken in the weight room part of the facility.

Q: So you are in Arizona for the time being then?
A: Yes.

Q: Were you surprised that the Packers didn’t want you back? Did you see any reason why you shouldn’t have returned there to continue what you started?
A: It was 50/50 of a surprise and not a surprise. I think the way they value the inside linebacker position especially in that defense, it wasn’t as valued as other places I guess in my opinion. Overall, it was one of the things where they offered me, and we were just in different wave lengths on where I valued myself and where they valued it. At the end of the day, it was one of the decisions that had to be made on both sides. It’s a business and right now I am extremely happy where I am and can’t wait to start playing for the Giants and finally get into the facility.

Q: I just want to back track to the facility. I know your dad is a contractor. Did you and your dad put it together?
A: Yea. The only thing I helped with was the foundation part because that was the only thing I could be here for. During the season was when he was building it this last year. It was pretty much done when I came back. All we had to do was put the weight room equipment in and turf field down. Right now, it is completely done. It’s been amazing to have.

Q: Did you have to pick up all the nails again?
A: Everyone knows that story. It’s been designated down to my little brother, he is the nail picking up guy. He gets the 10 bucks if he finishes it all.

Q: You mentioned that the Packers didn’t value inside linebacker the way other teams might. I assume you are thinking the Giants value that position. Do you think that the way they will play up front will help you make more impact plays than you have in previous years?
A: I think that’s the one misconception of me, I guess the public view. The way we ran the defense, at least the last two years, is I’m kind of put into the clean-up crew guy. There’s a lot of situations where you see numerous other defenses where its like okay you have A-B gap responsibility as an inside linebacker, you have one gap responsibility – not to get too much into football stuff but there’s two high, you have two gap responsibility on certain plays, as other people split safety. In our defense no matter what it was, since I was the only linebacker on the field, I was taught and told once again, to be the clean up crew guy. There wasn’t any gap responsibilities for me it was just kind of “hey play off Kenny (Clark), play off Za’Darius (Smith), play off Preston (Smith), play off Dean (Lowry)” play off these guys and basically make them right. They were able to do whatever they wanted to do and then I would go make the plays depending on that. I know there’s been things like you make tackles down the field, you make tackles here, you make tackles there. For the majority of the time there that’s what I was told to do. It’s just me I guess doing my job in that sense. Going into this defense, once I learn being whatever it ends up being how we play. I hope I am able to trigger it, solo gaps, do those type of things and make those type of impact plays.

Q: You hear so much now about the modern-day linebacker and more emphasis on coverage versus going up and making plays at the line of scrimmage. I’m just curious, when you view your game, where do you fit into that I guess profile or stereotype or whatever people think the modern-day linebacker needs to be?
A: In my opinion, I think I fit that completely. There were probably two times last year that I was called to, I guess, man coverage somebody that I made my own mental mistakes on. I think it was an eight-yard gain on an angle route against the Broncos, or nine or 10, whatever it ends up being. Basically, I just went too far outside, cut back inside. Then last year against the 49ers, where I played too heavy outside leverage, should have played inside leverage on (Raheem) Mostert, and he got a 20-yard burst route across the line of scrimmage. But for the most part, other than that, my coach last year, he basically was like ‘Oh yeah, you’re one of the best, if not the best, zone coverage linebackers I’ve ever been around’. Being able to see the field, see crossing routes, being able to communicate, do all those types of things. I think the tough part that obviously, same thing, where it’s been like ‘Oh yeah, Blake, coverage this thing, blah blah blah,’ whatever it ends up being, whatever critics or those types of things. It’s been certain situations where within those given calls or zone calls, because last year we played a lot of match coverage zone, so it looks like we’re in man coverage but technically we have inside help or outside help or being able to pass off and those types of things. There were small communication lapses and misunderstandings, where we were able to pass off, which totally understood from the public perception, you look at it and be like ‘Oh what the heck? Shouldn’t this guy be covering him? Or shouldn’t Blake be covering him?’ Those types of things. But overall, I think I am able to do whatever I’m asked to do. I can go and cover tight ends, I can go and cover running backs, I can play in zones, I can do all of the things that you need to do as an inside linebacker.

Q: Two quick questions. One is the facility, your gym, that’s connected to your home?
Martinez: Yeah. Basically, downstairs is a weight room and all that stuff. Then upstairs is the living area.

Q: Second question is a little bit more complex. This is an odd offseason with the Coronavirus. How different is the preparing for the season at this point? Have you gotten a playbook or how much can you work out? Have you talked to the coaches much?
A: Good question. Basically, I’ve talked to Joe Judge, the head coach. Obviously, you guys know that. We’ve kind of had short conversations, I got kind of an introduction from him, and I gave him an introduction about myself, little things like that. Excited, obviously, to be a Giant. I can’t wait to finally get over there. Then I talked to Pat Graham. Then I talked to my inside linebacker coach. I talked to different people within the facility at the Giants and things like that. They were able to send over an iPad, so I have an iPad that only has the games from last year. No playbook or anything yet, because I don’t think they’re allowed to send stuff over yet or whatever the rule is for that. Kind of in limbo right now, just kind of working out and those types of things and kind of waiting for the next steps within the virus protocol of what we’re allowed to do, whether it’s meetings with coaches and things like that, and just try to soak up as much information. I know once I’m able to get the playbook, it’ll kind of be my starting point of writing the notes down, doing the things necessary to make sure I know all the plays and checks and everything.

Q: What do you think it’s going to be like to have to do meetings and stuff and learn the playbook through teleconferences basically?
A: It’ll be interesting, but I think it’ll be something that I’ve kind of been used to, just within schooling and stuff. At Stanford, we did a lot of video stuff, conference things, so I kind of have an understanding of how I thrive learning through that. It’ll be weird not being able to obviously sit in the same room, get to know each other that way. But it’s one of the things that you just make the most of it. It’ll be interesting to work through, but I think the coaches right now are setting up a good kind of regiment on a way to allow us to thrive in that kind of environment.

Q: Given this new remote learning, do you think it’s going to be a disadvantage for people like you who are new to a system and new to a team? The second part to that question is do you think it will be an advantage to guys who are bright and sharp and can pick things up quickly?
A: Yeah, I think both of those things. I think it’ll be a decent disadvantage for me just not being able to… I think you grow a lot, whether it’s even just working out as a team, running as a team, maybe grow that comradery of ‘Ok, this guy next to me is working his butt off to get better,’ and it’s helping the team out. You can tell their work ethic. I think you grow that respect, just not even having to say anything, but by just working. I think that will be a big disadvantage just relationship-wise. Also yeah, same thing. It’ll be a big advantage to guys that are able to pick up things quickly, take good notes, understand what the coach is telling him without having to be able to take rests on those types of things. Overall, I think that’s the biggest disadvantage of this whole thing, is I think OTA reps and just that ability to walk through things as a group or whatever it ends up being, helps you out so much.

Q: I know the relationship with Pat Graham and obviously Kyler, but are you familiar, did you have any previous relationship, with any of the guys on the Giants, especially the defense?
A: No, actually I haven’t. The first one I kind of knew prior is Michael Thomas. We didn’t play together at Stanford, but we kind of knew each other from certain events and things that happened at Stanford. We did the NFLPA event one year together. So, it’ll be cool to kind of re-connect with him. Then Riley Dixon is part of my agency and we have the same agent, so we knew each other from small kinds of things that we’ve done with our agency. But overall, not too many familiar faces for me.

Q: I would imagine from your perspective then, you’re the guy in the middle of the defense, at some point, even if you guys are distancing away from the facility, you’re going to try to get guys together, whether it’s video conferencing or whatever, to kind of get to know some of these guys?
A: Oh yeah, 100 percent. I think just kind of using interesting ways to kind of have fun and interact without having to be with each other, whether it’s playing video games or like you said, chatting on a Zoom call or a Skype call, whatever it ends up being, just to kind of get to know each other and bond that way so when we do step in the facility for the first time, it’s not something that’s ‘Oh hey, I’m Blake’ or whatever it ends up being.

Mar 292020
 
Grant Delpit, LSU Tigers (January 13, 2020)

Grant Delpit – © USA TODAY Sports

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New York Giants 2020 NFL Draft Preview: Safeties

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number mean, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-25 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

Julian Love made the move from cornerback to safety prior to the season. The 4th round rookie (who I had a 1st round grade on) didn’t see the field much until Jabrill Peppers went down with an injury. Love filled the role well, a role that was more nickel linebacker / slot defender than it was a true deep half safety. Peppers will be back, but Antoine Bethea will not. One can quickly assume Love will move into vacated role created by Bethea’s departure but it can be disputed if he can handle the deep coverage responsibilities, as that wasn’t the role he stepped into last year. You don’t want Peppers back there, either. Sean Chandler and Nate Ebner are best suited for special teams.

This is a position I have been banging the table for NYG to address. Safety has become such an important piece to the defense with rule changes and abundance of tight ends + slots + running backs running routes. Last year I wanted them to draft Chauncey Gardner-Johnson over Ximines, in 2017 I wanted to draft Desmond King over Wayne Gallman, and in 2016 I wanted them to draft Justin Simmons over Darian Thompson. In diagnosing what this team needs most, I am surprised many don’t speak about safety as it has been such a weak point to the defense for years.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

  1. Grant Delpit / LSU / 6’3 – 213

Grade: 82

Summary: Junior entry. Three year starter from Houston, Texas. A two time consensus All American. Winner of the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award. Delpit came into the 2019 season with sky-high, borderline unrealistic expectations to reach after his All American, Nagurski Award Finalist 2018 campaign. A bum ankle and a slightly less productive season caused credible and legitimate questions surrounding who and what Delpit is on the field. Make no mistake here, Delpit can be the face of a defense that will produce across the board. He is the kind of player who every defensive coach wants to work with because of his versatility and toughness. He will be an important, productive player in the league.

*Delpit didn’t reach the elite tier that many placed him in prior to the season. I think he is somewhat a victim of unfair expectations that ultimately led to many placing the “overrated” label on him. I never saw Delpit as a top 10 kind of guy. But he does everything you want a safety to do, some of his 2019 tape has to be taken with a grain of salt because of the ankle injury, and he is a coach’s favorite. Don’t expect Derwin James or Earl Thomas here, but you are safe to assume he is a year 1 contributor, if not solid starter.

  1. Xavier McKinney / Alabama / 6’0 – 201

Grade: 81

Summary: Junior entry. Two year starter from Roswell, Georgia. 2019 All American and First Team All SEC. McKinney was a do-it-all safety for Nick Saban’s defense, making plays against the pass, the run, and on special teams. He is a versatile, rangy, aggressive weapon for the defense that reacts and closes as fast as anyone can at the position. He is a hustler who will bring swagger to the defense he gets drafted to. He has some on-field discipline issues that can get exposed in the NFL, thus he will need some extra time to adjust to the speed and complexity of the game. His upside is sky-high if he is put into the right situation and he applies himself.

*McKinney plays a high risk, high reward style which isn’t a fit for every scheme. But for the teams that can tolerate, borderline feet of that, he is going to be graded highly and I do think he has a shot at being the top safety off the board. I love his burst and ability to close, if he can develop that movement into coverage, watch out.

  1. Kyle Dugger / Lenoir-Rhyne / 6’1 – 217

Grade: 79

Summary: Sixth year senior entry from Decatur, Georgia. A two time 1st Team All South Athletic Conference honoree and one time 2nd Team. Winner of the 2019 Cliff Harris Award, given to the best defensive player in Division II despite playing in an injury shortened season (hand). Dugger has the attractive tool set and dominant- play at a lower level of college football to make him a credible draft prospect. He looked like a man among boys and that was evident athletically whenever he got the ball in his hands. He was just too big and fast, thus why he was an All American punt returner, a spot he netted 6 touchdowns. As good as Dugger looks on paper, he will be a 24 year old rookie, has had a couple durability issues, and is making an enormous jump on competition and speed. Safety is a tough position to walk off the bus from Division II and play right away, but it has been done before. His role should be limited early but the upside could be Pro Bowl-caliber.

*Another guy here who could end up being the top safety selected based on scheme and team need. Dugger is a wildcard. He dominated the combine, he looked excellent at the Senior Bowl, he was on another level among his opponents in college. He was offered to play up in competition in 2019 but he wanted to stay loyal to his teammates and coaches at Lenoir-Rhyne. He checks almost every box but the jump in speed/size is going to be a major adjustment and there are some red flags stemming from durability. I like him, but I am keeping my round 2 grade on him despite many telling me not to do so.

  1. Antoine Winfield Jr / Minnesota / 5’9 – 203

Grade: 79

Summary: Fourth year sophomore entry. Four year starter (including his two 4-game seasons) from The Woodlands, Texas. The son of former Jim Thorpe Award winner and 14-year NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield. A 2019 1st Team All American and Big 10 Defensive Back of the Year. 2019 Bronko Nagurski Finalist. After a hot start to his career as a true freshman in 2016, Winfield played in just 8 games over the next 2 years combined with separate lower body injuries. He bounced back in a big way in 2019, his true senior season, leading the country with 7 interceptions while also leading the Gophers in tackles. Winfield gets around the action as often as anyone and he proved he can make things happen when he gets there. He plays bigger and tougher than his size, making him a solid last line of defense in any scheme. Winfield will have durability and red flags next to his name, but this kid is a gamer who impacts the game in several ways.

*I’ll say this, if Winfield hadn’t had durability issues early in his career and he was just a few inches bigger/longer, he would likely be the top safety on my board. I love his style, I love the bloodlines, I love his versatility. I actually think he could come in and be a starting nickel right away if needed, but will also be able to play an Earl Thomas-type deep safety role down the road.

  1. JR Reed / Georgia / 6’1 – 202

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Frisco, Texas. Began his career at Tulsa, as an injury sustained his senior year of high school nearly derailed his recruitment. Son of former NFL wide receiver Jake Reed and nephew of former NFL defensive back Dale Carter. Reed transferred to Georgia in 2016 and proceeded to start three years for the Bulldogs. He earned All SEC honors twice and was named a 2019 All American and Thorpe Award finalist. Even though Reed will be a 24 year old rookie, his potential to be a long time starter in the league is as high as anyone. He lacks the ideal standout physical traits, but the intelligence he plays with and knack to locate the action quickly will make him an asset for any defense. His playing speed and strength is good enough, and the coach’s favorite with NFL bloodlines will get himself onto the field early.

*I had Reed at the top of this group early in the year. The top trait I look for in a safety centers around instincts and quick decision making. There may not be a safety in the class who gets near and to the action as much as Reed does, but I do have to acknowledge there is less talent here, he is playing with a lesser deck of cards. I still see a guy who will start at some point though, he’s no slouch when it comes to speed and strength. Maybe just a limited ceiling type.

  1. Ashtyn Davis / California / 6’1 – 202

Grade: 77

Summary: Sixth year senior from Santa Cruz, California. Three year starter who saw the majority of his time at safety, but has also started at cornerback and filled the nickel corner spot sporadically. 2nd Team All Pac 12 in 2019 after being named 1st Team in 2018 when he led the Pac 12 with 4 interceptions. Davis originally arrived at Cal as a track athlete where he was a very accomplished hurdler. His athletic gifts are noteworthy and he translates them to the field well. Davis is a fast and rangy safety who can fill cornerback roles where needed. He was also an incredibly effective special teamer and returner. There is a lot a team can do with Davis and if his body continues to develop, he will be an every down threat for a defense against the run and pass.

*Davis has a plus-versatility grade that may cause a team to take him as high as the top of round 2. He has proven he can play corner, nickel, and deep safety. He is one of the best athletes in the entire safety group, too, maybe the best. I get a little nervous with his ability to hold up physically and there were too many negative plays I had from tape to put him up there, but I still see a guy who could end up starting in the league.

  1. Julian Blackmon / Utah / 6’0 – 187

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Layton, Utah. Three year starter who made the move from cornerback to safety in 2019. Two time 2nd Team All Pac 12 at corner and a 1st Team All Pac 12 safety in addition to being named 2nd Team All American as a senior. Blackmon’s move to safety was likely in the forecast as a pro and the fact he did so before his senior season and excelled the way he did is a good sign. His lack of fluidity in his hips isn’t as much of an issue there and this is the spot he can really use his range in pursuit and downhill pop as a weapon. Blackmon is a fast read and react player who will be physical but also make plays on the ball. His knee injury suffered in the Pac 12 Championship will delay the start of his career, but he should be ready to contribute towards the second half of the 2020 season. A versatile defensive back who should be able to start within a year or two.

*The knee injury caused me to bump him down a notch, thus you can see I had a higher grade on him than most. Blackmon’s position change to safety was one that benefited him greatly. The lack of size is a concern, he will need to add functional bulk over his first year or two in the league. But I still see a guy who can contribute as a nickel safety at some point in 2020.

  1. Geno Stone / Iowa / 5’10 -207

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from New Castle, Pennsylvania. A two year starter who was 2nd Team All Big 10 in 2019, Honorable Mention in 2018. Stone was a jack of all trades chess piece for the Iowa defense who was all over the field. He was used in a variety of ways because of his quickness to the ball and ability to finish. He is a blue-collar player who will help a defense in multiple roles. He shouldn’t be trusted in deep coverage, as he doesn’t have the range and catch up speed and it won’t be ideal to have him in consistent man coverage. Allow him to play downhill and pursue the action and he will be a productive player. He will be an effective special teamer early on and can provide solid-package defense with the upside of being a starter down the road.

*Stone is a fun player to watch, plain and simple. He flies around the field, he is short but stout, and he instills energy into others. Because of that, some place too high of a grade on him. There are speed and size issues here and while they aren’t deal breakers, he is going to be fighting an uphill battle. He is a solid, early day 3 guy who could play the Peppers role as a backup.

  1. Jeremy Chinn / Southern Illinois / 6’3 – 221

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Fishers, Indiana. Four year starter who earned 2nd Team All MVFC honors in 2017, 1st Team in both 2018 and 2019 in addition to being named a 2nd Team All American as a senior. Chinn played a versatile role throughout college and there is a chance his tool set will cause some teams to experiment with him at cornerback. He may be oversized for the position, but Chinn plays really fast and long. His range and physical play could be a matchup nightmare for tight ends and receivers alike, but his feel in zone coverage just isn’t there. He will come into the league with a tool set that needs to be patiently developed, but he has starter upside.

*Chinn is probably going to go day 2 from what I’ve heard. I am keeping him at the top of day 3 though, and I won’t budge. I see a high upside athlete with plus size but he doesn’t play with fast eyes and I don’t see him forecasting very well. Maybe in a reaction-based role he can get a higher outlook, but he is similar to Dugger just a notch below in pretty much everything across the board.

  1. Terrell Burgess / Utah / 5’11 – 202

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from San Marcos, California. One year starter who has been changed positions multiple times. Was a hybrid receiver/defensive back as a freshman before making the full time move to defense. Burgess played both cornerback and safety as a backup to both spots before being named the starting strong safety as a senior in 2019. He took his opportunity and ran with it, being named Honorable Mention All Pac 12. He was the leader of that defense and was lauded for his preparation, on-field IQ, and versatility. Burgess has some physical limitations but his intelligence and ability to change his skin in the defensive backfield is an attractive asset. He can be a third safety who gets on the field right away in nickel situations.

*All the NYG coaches seem to be on the same page in regard to their value on versatility and football intelligence. Burgess has pretty much played every role that exists in the secondary, he was the mental-leader of the Utah defense, and he ran a 4.46 at the combine. The fact he only started for a year is a red flag, but it could also mean someone is going to get a bargain with him because he isn’t even scratching the surface of what he can be yet. I see a nickel/dime defender here, roles that are becoming more and more important.

  1. Brandon Jones / Texas / 5’11 – 198

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Nacogdoches, Texas. Three year starter who finished with All Big 12 honors both seasons. Jones is the kind of player who is going to find multiple ways to help a defense. He can play a single high role, stemming from his ability to anticipate and quickly react to the ball. He can play in the box, stemming from his aggressive downhill nature and finisher’s punch as a tackler. He can contribute on special teams, as seen with his career that includes multiple blocked punts and 11+ yards per punt return. Jones is a smart player with sneaky speed who does a lot for a defense that won’t show up in the box score. He is going to produce more than many players drafted ahead of him.

*Jones doesn’t have the ideal size or speed, but his feel for the game and consistent production across multiple roles will get him drafted by a team that wants a fourth or fifth safety who can backup different spots. This kind of player can find a fit in any scheme.

  1. Josh Metellus / Michigan / 5’11 – 209

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Pembroke Pines, Florida. Three year starter who was named All Big 10 three straight years. Metellus has been a mainstay on the Wolverines defense for years, playing a leader-of-the-secondary role who is often lining up in different spots down to down. He makes good reads both pre and post snap and will make the plays that are in front of him. Metellus doesn’t have any standout physical traits but he is dependable and versatile. He won’t be a playmaker week to week, but the safety net he provides across multiple roles is often exactly what teams need as their last line of defense.

*I like this guy as a key special teams contributor and extra run defender. You know, nickel corners/safeties need to be able to tackle. A growing trend in the league is for offenses to audible to running or screen passes when extra defensive backs come on the field. Metellus can tackle like a linebacker and he has shown good production against the pass. He can be an important player right away, but don’t expect too much.

  1. Jordan Fuller / Ohio State / 6’2 – 203

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Old Tappan, New Jersey. Three year starter who ended his career on the 1st Team All Big 10 squad. The two-time team captain was a standout student who graduated early and has received a lot of positive attention for what he does off the field, a very high character young man. On the field, Fuller is a balanced threat in the secondary who has the pro-caliber triangle numbers and every down capabilities. He is best when the action is in front of him, as he can explode downhill with fast reactions. He doesn’t always show ideal instincts and feel, but if he is put into the right role in the right safety tandem, he can be a quality starter.

*Fuller is pretty average across the board but what I like about him, he doesn’t hurt the defense. It was hard to find real negative plays on his tape. I don’t know if I can trust him in deep coverage and I don’t see him taking on receivers in man, but he can be a guy who helps prevent big plays if there is enough help around him. Smart, good kid who coaches will want in the locker room.

  1. K’Von Wallace / Clemson / 5’11 – 206

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Highland Springs, Virginia. Three year starter who earned Honorable Mention All ACC in 2018, 3rd Team in 2019. Wallace lacks standout traits to sill a specific role at a high level, but he is a physical downhill force who will bring energy to a defense and special teams. His lack of long speed and fluidity in his hips can make him a liability in man and/or deep coverage, but he can perform well in the box most notably in a zone scheme. His upside has a low cap on hit but he is a safe bet to provide quality backup presence and solid special teams play.

*Wallace is a quick and physical downhill guy who controlled a lot of the calls on the Clemson defense. Like Fuller, it is hard to find plays where he really hurts the defense. I think he is a safe and reliable bet to provide quality depth but, also like Fuller, don’t expect him to make a lot of plays in coverage.

  1. Antoine Brooks Jr./ Maryland / 5’11 – 220

Grade: 71

Summary: Senior entry from Lanham, Maryland. Three year starter. Two time 2nd Team All Big 10 and one time Honorable Mention. 2019 Team MVP Award winner. Brooks was a high school quarterback who made the full time move to the defensive side upon arrival and steadily increased his level of play. He is an aggressive, downhill attacker who will make plenty of tackles in space and help enhance a team’s physical outlook. His capabilities and overall upside against the pass will be limited, however. He can’t stick to slot receivers, won’t be big enough against tight ends, and doesn’t have lateral range in deep zone. Perhaps not an every down player, Brooks can still make an impact but teams can’t put a ton on his plate.

*Be careful with where you put Brooks, as he will be the guy an opposing offense looks at and attacks in the passing game. He needs to be protected. That said, he is a force against the running game and will enforce a physical nature across the middle. Also, he will be a special teams weapon.

*PLEASE NOTE – Khaleke Hudson (Michigan) and Tanner Muse (Clemson) are on my LB board

16: Kenny Robinson / West Virgina: 70

17: L”Jarius Sneed / SMU: 70

18: Rodney Clemons / Louisiana Tech: 69

19: Brian Cole II / Mississippi State: 69

20: Jalynn Hawkins / California: 69

21: Chris Miller / Baylor: 68

22: Alohi Gilman / Notre Dame: 68

23: Shyheim Carter / Alabama: 68

24: James Hendricks / North Dakota State: 68

25: Jalen Elliot / Notre Dame: 68

NYG APPROACH

As I said earlier, the deep safety spot has been a weak point to this defense for years. I think the Peppers/Love duo has some potential, but I don’t think either one of them fills exactly what NYG needs back there. It is a door that is WIDE open, not in a good way. There won’t be any safeties in this class worth taking at #4, or even if they trade down unless we are talking about the last 7-9 picks of round 1. Round 2 the safety discussion can begin if one of the top 3 or 4 guys are available, although Dugger isn’t the fit for NYG’s current situation. The more I try to project, the more I see this being an option in rounds 3-4-5. The names I think are worth considering for the role they need to fill are and likely will be available are JR Reed, Julian Blackmon, and Jordan Fuller. Otherwise, you are looking at a late day 3 gamble who you can cross your fingers on.

Mar 282020
 
Eric Tomlinson, New England Patriots (October 27, 2019)

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NEW YORK GIANTS SIGN TIGHT END ERIC TOMLINSON…
According to his own Instagram account, the New York Giants have signed unrestricted free agent tight end Eric Tomlinson (Las Vegas Raiders). Terms of the deal are not currently publicly known.

This is Tomlinson’s second stint with the Giants. The team signed Tomlinson in September 2019 after he was cut by the New York Jets. The Giants cut him three weeks later after he played in three games with no starts. Tomlinson was then picked up by the New England Patriots, where he started both games that he played in, and the Raiders, where he started one of the three games he played in. Tomlinson played in eight games with three starts in 2019, catching just one pass for one yard.

The 27-year old, 6’6”, 263-pound Tomlinson was originally signed as an undrafted rookie free agent by the Philadelphia Eagles after the 2015 NFL Draft. The Eagles cut him before the season started and he was then signed to the Practice Squad of the Houston Texans. In November 2016, the Jets signed him to their 53-man roster. In three seasons with the Jets, Tomlinson played in 36 regular-season games with 29 starts, catching 16 passes for 193 yards and one touchdown.

For a complete listing of free agent comings and goings, see the New York Giants 2020 Free Agency Scorecard section of the website.

Mar 272020
 
James Bradberry, Carolina Panthers (September 8, 2019)

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CONFERENCE CALL WITH CORNERBACK JAMES BRADBERRY…
The following is the transcript from today’s media conference call with cornerback James Bradberry, who the New York Giants signed on March 16th to a 3-year, $43.5 million contract:

Q: Why the Giants and talk about the challenge of coming in as the veteran corner on what’s a pretty young group?
A: Of course, the city of New York and all the opportunities they have on and off the field. I’m familiar with Dave Gettleman and the culture he is trying to build in the locker room. I am looking forward to being a part of it. What I can bring to the locker room is my overall knowledge of the game. I can help the younger guys in the DB room get better. My experience for the most part is what I am going to bring to the game.

Q: Obviously you and Dave Gettleman have a relationship that goes back to when he drafted you. Can you just talk a little bit about what the conversations were like this time as he was recruiting you?
A: Honestly, he reached out to my agent. I really didn’t talk to (Dave) Gettleman. They came out of nowhere and made an offer, I didn’t even expect them to make an offer. He already knew the type of guy I was, and I already knew the type of guy he was. I already knew what type of organization he was trying to build over there in New York. I knew it was nothing but positive.

Q: One of the reasons the Giants wanted you even though you are only 26 is they need a veteran in the room? Just because you have been in the league four years doesn’t mean that naturally you would be a leader. What do you think they saw in you with these young cornerbacks that you can help them other than you being a good cornerback yourself?
A: Of course, Dave saw me up close and personal my first year and then after that he saw me from afar. After that, I think he saw me improve each and every year. In order to improve you have to take knowledge and apply it on the field. That’s what I want to do for the younger guys, I want to give them knowledge and hopefully they can apply it on the field.

Q: I think the expectation is this defense is going to play a lot of man coverage. How does that fit your strength and was that appealing to you?
A: I see myself as a versatile corner. I can play zone, I can play man. I was down for whatever. Of course, playing a lot of man is a challenge for any cornerback and I am always willing to accept a challenge.

Q: What was it like going into free agency during the coronavirus?
A: Initially, free agency was going smooth until the coronavirus came around. When it became official that I was going with the Giants, it didn’t hit me yet. I don’t think it still has hit me yet. I feel like after we get everything figured out and the coronavirus, everyone is safe and whatnot. I feel like it will hit me when I am able to come up and visit.

Q: You haven’t been to the Giants facility yet? Or met any of the coaches?
A: No sir.

Q: Where are you training?
A: Right now, I am in Charlotte. My training has kind of come to a halt because of trying to keep your social distancing, trying to keep a safe distance from everyone. Making sure you are not spreading the virus or contracting the virus. I have been working out here and there trying to get it in by any means.

Q: What are your first impressions of Joe Judge as a head coach from your conversations with him? You talked about the culture they want to build now? What specifically did they talk to you about?
A: I talked to him a little bit after I signed. It was a positive conversation. We didn’t really talk about football a whole lot. We talked about life and what’s going on right now in the world. He was telling me they are postponing OTA’s and we are going to figure out football later on. Right now, we are just going to worry about what’s going on in the world.

Q: Have you ever had an opportunity in your career to serve as kind of that mentor for a young group, and if so, how that went for you with balancing mentoring them as well as being the best player you could be?
Bradberry: In my career, including college and high school? Or in the NFL?

Q: Yeah. NFL specifically, but if you had some college or high school experience mentoring, that would work.
Bradberry: I’ll just talk about the NFL. In my third year, when Donte Jackson came, of course, he was already an elite athlete. I didn’t have to coach him up on that. His technique was superb, especially because he played a lot of press man (coverage). For me, I was just trying to help him just learn how to break down film and watch film, and make sure I stayed on top of him about watching tape because that’s how you anticipate routes, within film coverage. I feel like he improved in that going into his second year. Of course, he had a standout rookie year. I feel like that was all a tribute to his talents. I helped out a little bit here and there.

Q: What experiences did you take from playing in the NFC South against Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, all those guys, that you can take with you to New York? How did those guys help make you a better player in competition?
Bradberry: Of course, the competition, going against the best, of course, it’ll help you improve your skill. But just watching film, those guys are tier one guys. I knew I had to be on my A-game every time I faced them and I had to watch my film throughout the week. It made me very diligent with my film study. I just sacrifice time, make sure I put the time in so I can ball out on Sunday.

Q: In your opinion, who is the best receiver in the NFC South?
Bradberry: I thought Julio Jones was the best receiver, but all of those guys are elite. Michael Thomas, Mike Evans are not too far behind.

Q: Obviously, nobody knows what the next few weeks or next few months are going to bring because of COVID. I’m just wondering, how are you going to get a jumpstart on what the Giants run, given that they have a new coaching staff. Patrick Graham, the defensive coordinator, he obviously had a year of experience down in Miami, different personnel. But what can you do while we kind of wait for everything to sort out so that once the time does come, you’re ready to kind of hit the ground running?
Bradberry: I think just having a routine as far as working out the best you can. Getting on the bicycle, riding the bike around the neighborhood and making sure your legs are conditioned. Communicating with the coaches and trying to get as much information from them as possible. Just little, small things. Mainly just staying in shape. That’s the biggest thing.

Q: Do you know anybody with the Giants? Any of the players that you’re familiar with in any way, shape or form?
Bradberry: Yes sir. I know David Mayo, I know Rashaan Gaulden and I know Chad Slade.

Q: Have any of those guys reached out to you and told you what it’s like to be a Giant?
Bradberry: Yeah, I reached out to those guys. They had nothing but positive things to say about it. They pretty much love the city, love the facilities, and I heard the food is good.

Q: How about the young DBs that you’re going to be working with? Have you had a chance to touch base with them and what are your thoughts on DeAndre Baker?
Bradberry: I followed them on Instagram but I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to them. I’d rather introduce myself to them and meet them in person. It goes a lot smoother than text messages or DMs. But honestly, I really haven’t watched a whole lot of film on those guys. But I did watch DeAndre Baker coming out of college and I saw a really good athlete. I’m looking forward to working with him. I’m looking forward to working with him and the rest of the guys, honestly. I don’t want to single one person out.

Q: I’m wondering how you’ll embrace the challenge of kind of helping the Giants, particularly on defense, get back on track after a few years where they didn’t necessarily play up to what they would have expected?
Bradberry: Honestly, my motto is just go out there and do it. There’s no point in being scared of it or hiding back from it. Just embrace the challenge, accept it and make sure you put the time in so that when it’s time to play on Sunday, that you’re able to perform at your highest level, put on a good show for the fans and also get a win.

Mar 262020
 
Austin Johnson, Tennessee Titans (August 29, 2019)

Austin Johnson – © USA TODAY Sports

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NEW YORK GIANTS SIGN DEFENSIVE TACKLE AUSTIN JOHNSON…
TheAthleticNYC is reporting that the New York Giants have signed unrestricted free agent defensive tackle Austin Johnson (Tennessee Titans). Terms of the deal are not currently publicly known.

The 25-year old, 6’4”, 314-pound Johnson was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Titans. In four seasons in Tennessee, Johnson played in 58 regular-season games with 13 starts, compiling 83 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and five pass defenses. In 2019, Johnson played in all 16 regular-season games with one start and finished the year with 23 tackles. Johnson is a big, strong run defender who never lived up to expectations in Tennessee. He played under current Giants’ defensive line coach Sean Spencer at Penn State.

For a complete listing of free agent comings and goings, see the New York Giants 2020 Free Agency Scorecard section of the website.

Mar 262020
 
Cody Latimer, New York Giants (September 8, 2019)

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CODY LATIMER SIGNS WITH WASHINGTON REDSKINS…
New York Giants unrestricted free agent wide receiver Cody Latimer has signed a contract with the Washington Redskins. Terms of the deal are not currently publicly known.

Despite playing in 15 games with 10 starts, Latimer finished 2019 with only 24 catches for 300 yards (12.5 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.

The 6’2”, 215-pound Latimer was originally drafted in the 2nd round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos. In four seasons with the Broncos, Latimer played in 45 regular-season games with three starts.

The Giants signed Latimer as an unrestricted free agent from the Broncos in March 2018. He missed 10 games with a hamstring injury and finished the season with just 11 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown. Latimer is a good gunner on special teams and has experience returning kickoffs (he averaged 23.8 yards per return on 24 kickoffs in 2019).

Latimer is the third free agent of the Giants to sign with another team this offseason. For a complete listing of free agent comings and goings, see the New York Giants 2020 Free Agency Scorecard section of the website.

NEW YORK GIANTS SIGN DRAVON ASKEW-HENRY TO 2-YEAR DEAL…
The NFL Network is reporting that the New York Giants have signed free agent cornerback Dravon Askew-Henry to a 2-year contract. The 24-year old, 6’0”, 202-pound Askew-Henry was originally signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent after the 2019 NFL Draft. He did not make the final cut. Askew-Henry played in the XFL earlier this year.

Mar 232020
 
Dion Lewis, Tennessee Titans (October 6, 2019)

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NEW YORK GIANTS SIGN DION LEWIS TO 1-YEAR DEAL…
Multiple media sources are reporting that the New York Giants have signed unrestricted free agent running back Dion Lewis to a 1-year contract. Lewis was cut by the Tennessee Titans on March 12th.

The 29-year old, 5’8”, 195-pound Lewis was originally drafted in the 5th round of the 2011 NFL Draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Lewis has spent time with the Eagles (2011-2012), Cleveland Browns (2013), Indianapolis Colts (2014), New England Patriots (2015-2017), and Titans (2018-2019).

Not counting the 2013 season which his missed due to a broken leg, Lewis has played in 86 regular-season games with 27 starts in eight seasons. He has carried the ball 538 times for 2,310 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and 11 touchdowns. Lewis has also caught 172 passes for 1,281 yards (7.4 yards per catch) and seven touchdowns.

In 2019, Lewis played in all 16 regular-season games for the Titans with one start. He carried the ball 54 times for 209 yards and caught 25 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown.

Mar 232020
 
Corey Coleman, New York Giants (November 18, 2018)

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NEW YORK GIANTS RE-SIGN COREY COLEMAN…
ESPN is reporting that the New York Giants have re-signed unrestricted free agent wide receiver Corey Coleman to a 1-year contract. The Giants placed Coleman on Injured Reserve in July 2019 with a torn ACL knee injury and he missed all of last season.

The 5’11”, 185-pound Coleman was originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2016 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns. An explosive athlete but an injury-plagued bust in Cleveland, Coleman has also had brief stints with the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots in 2018.

The Giants signed Coleman to the Practice Squad and then the 53-man roster in October 2018. He ended up playing in eight games with one start, finishing with five catches for 71 yards. Coleman’s primary contribution came on special teams as as kickoff returner (averaging 26 yards on 23 returns). In all, Coleman has played in 27 NFL games with 19 starts, accruing 61 catches for 789 yards and five touchdowns.

For a complete list of the Giants’ free agent activity, see the New York Giants 2020 Free Agency Scorecard section of the website.